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D.C. Child And Family Services Agency: More Focus Needed on Human Capital Management Issues for Caseworkers and Foster Parent Recruitment and Retention

GAO-04-1017 Published: Sep 24, 2004. Publicly Released: Sep 24, 2004.
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The District of Columbia's Child and Family Services Agency (CFSA) is responsible for ensuring the safety and well being of about 3,000 children in its care and ensuring that services are provided to them and their families. In fiscal year 2003, CFSA's total budget was about $200 million. Concerns have been raised about CFSA's supply of caseworkers, the foster care and adoptive homes, and the quality and timeliness of mental health services for foster care children. To help address these issues, the Congress appropriated $14 million in fiscal year 2004 to CFSA, the Department of Mental Health (DMH), and the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments (COG) specifically for foster care improvement. GAO examined CFSA's (1) strategies for recruiting, retaining, and managing its caseworkers; (2) efforts to license an adequate supply of safe foster and adoptive homes; and (3) efforts to collaborate with DMH and the Family Court to provide timely mental health services to foster care children. GAO also reviewed plans for and use of the federal foster care improvement funds.

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Recommendations for Executive Action

Agency Affected Recommendation Status
Child and Family Services Agency To build upon the improvements underway, the director of CFSA should address human capital management issues that affect caseworkers by establishing processes to consistently and effectively communicate information about agency operations and developing strategies to help ensure that supervisors fulfill their responsibilities.
Closed – Implemented
CFSA officials reported that the agency has a significant number of strategies to communicate about agency operations. The officials reported that CFSA has several meetings to announce and discuss agency operations, including a monthly all-staff meeting that provides an opportunity to train employees on new initiatives, to establish priorities and expectations, and to roll out policies. Additionally, the officials reported that CFSA has two regular email communications that go to all staff--the "HR Insider" which focuses on administrative issues, and the "CFSA Reporter." These bi-weekly e-bulletins announce and/or update information about initiatives, changes, deadlines and events. Furthermore, according to the CFSA officials, the agency uses e-mails to address strategic topics and publishes a "Best Practices" periodical that includes summaries of new initiatives. As for its efforts to ensure that supervisors fulfill their responsibilities, in 2004, CFSA reported that it is providing additional training for supervisors to enhance their skills and that supervisors would participate in a peer review process where they will have an opportunity to review cases of their peers and provide feedback. In addition, CFSA said it is using its Performance Management Plans to ensure supervisors are held accountable. In August 2006, CFSA officials reported that each manager is to develop and communicate measurable and clear performance standards to each supervisor at the beginning of the evaluation period. In July 2008, CFSA officials reported that supervisors are holding weekly supervision meetings with Social Workers. These one-on-one meetings are intended to help with clinical supervision, so that social workers can ask for help and advice on their investigations or on-going case reviews. Also, CFSA explained that exit interview information is disseminated to supervisors and managers to help them address issues with recurring themes and that training opportunities for supervisors have been increased.
Child and Family Services Agency To build upon the improvements underway, the director of CFSA should develop a systematic method to evaluate its foster parent recruitment efforts to help identify the most effective strategies.
Closed – Implemented
CFSA identified several approaches to evaluating its foster parent recruitment efforts. According to CFSA, its recruitment unit gathers and analyzes monthly statistics on the recruitment activities. Also, CFSA's Office of Policy, Planning and Program Support conducts an annual analysis of data gathered by the recruitment unit. Additionally, CFSA explained that a consultant conducted an analysis to determine the characteristics/tendencies/habits/traits of those most likely to adopt and foster children and based on this information it designed the recruitment strategies. Further, CFSA reported that it has developed a comprehensive recruitment plan that identifies the strategies and goals for recruiting foster and adoptive families for CFSA.
Child and Family Services Agency To build upon the improvements underway, the director of CFSA should conduct exit interviews with foster parents who stop serving to identify the factors affecting their decisions and develop an action plan to address those factors that relate to systematic issues.
Closed – Implemented
According to CFSA, its support workers began conducting exit interviews in 2006. Also, the Foster and Adoptive Parent Association, under a contract with CFSA, conducts a yearly satisfaction survey to capture data on parents' level of satisfaction with the services provided. In addition, CFSA noted several efforts to identify and address systemic issues raised by current parents. For example, CFSA reported that it established a foster parent support unit in October 2005 that collects data on calls from parents and, based on this information, suggests training topics for parents. Also, CFSA noted that its management meets with the foster parent leadership and advocacy group regularly to discuss systemic issues and keep them abreast of progress on issues.

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Appropriated fundsChild adoptionChildrenEmployee retentionHuman capital managementFamiliesFederal fundsFoster childrenFunds managementHuman capitalInteragency relationsLabor forceMental health care servicesPersonnel managementStrategic planningChild welfareTimeliness